1 1/2 StarsClive Barker’s Lord of Illusions is all smoke and mirrors, here is a movie that has a gripping first ten minutes and nothing that follows comes close to toping it. But man, what an opening. After the horrific events that start the film, the story settles into a modern-day film noir, complete with the downtrodden private eye (Scott Bakula), a femme fatale (Famke Janssen), and the low-paying gig that starts off small and leads to a much larger conspiracy. The original spin in this case is the presence of the supernatural or ‘magic’. Think of it as Chinatown meets The Prestige.
Detective Harry D’Amour is coming off a case that nearly killed him. Riddled with guilt over a child that was killed during an exorcism attempt, The film never explains why Harry was present at said event, he is reluctant to take another job with dark overtones. Persuaded by the 10,000 dollar fee, Harry agrees to tail a man that is suspected of insurance fraud. From these meager beginnings the story evolves into a bizarre fable about warring members of an occult that was feared to posses access to the dark-side of illusions. Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor), a wealthy illusionist in the mold of David Copperfield, is the biggest name in the business of stage trickery, except that he is actually capable of performing magical feats. His wife Dorothy (Janssen), fears her husband is being stalked by members of an extremist religious cult, looking to kill Swann to resurrect their leader.
Barker’s screenplay is surprisingly muted form the man responsible for horrific stories like Hellraiser and Nightbreed. It seems like this was the most commercially viable product he could produce, there is very little gore and even fewer scares. The concept is intriguing but the writing never fully takes advantage of the ideas that it raises. The casting feels off too, Janssen is adrift with a role that is neither well-written nor crucial to the story, her love scene with Bakula and her character at large feel perfunctory. This also applies to Bakula, who makes for a good hard-boiled detective but his character is distant and does nothing to make himself endearing, the same could be said for the film. Lord of Illusions is a missed opportunity to present a new angle on the standard noir thriller, but it lakes the courage and conviction of its startling opening passage.
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, Famke Janssen